RFU sug­gests rise in in­juries might be down to new laws

Melville says changes have ‘sig­nif­i­cant’ im­pact on num­ber of tack­les in games

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - GAVIN MAIRS

The spike in the num­ber of high­pro­file in­juries sus­tained by Premier­ship play­ers could have been a re­sult of the in­tro­duc­tion of global law changes which have led to a more “at­tri­tional” form of rugby, ac­cord­ing to new re­search by the Rugby Foot­ball Union.

The RFU’S pro­fes­sional rugby depart­ment has com­piled the data, which has been seen by The Daily Tele­graph, in re­sponse to grow­ing con­cerns over the trend that has led to many clubs be­ing with­out their best play­ers for long pe­ri­ods of the sea­son. The RFU will show the new data to World Rugby, un­der­lin­ing the im­pact that it is hav­ing on the game in this coun­try and also the ef­fect it is hav­ing on the national set-up.

Nigel Melville, the RFU direc­tor of pro­fes­sional rugby, com­mis­sioned the “game trends sum­mary data” in a bid to discover whether there was any di­rect link be­tween the num­ber of in­juries and the in­tro­duc­tion of the new laws in the north­ern hemi­sphere in Au­gust.

Pro­fes­sional Rugby In­juries Sur­veil­lance Pro­ject, a joint ini­tia­tive be­tween the RFU and the Premier­ship, is not ex­pected to an­nounce a sig­nif­i­cant rise over­all in the num­ber of in­juries in com­par­i­son with the same pe­riod last sea­son, al­though that may be due to late record­ing of them by the clubs.

The re­search con­firms, how­ever, that there has been a ma­jor change to the way the game is be­ing played by English clubs in di­rect com­par­i­son with the first five rounds of last sea­son, in­clud­ing a spike of 11.4 per cent in the av­er­age num­ber of tack­les per match (up from 150 to 167), the area of the game that leads to the ma­jor­ity of in­juries.

World Rugby in­tro­duced 11 amend­ments, in­clud­ing changes to the ruck/tackle and scrum laws in a bid to make the game “more sim­ple to play and ref­eree as well as fur­ther pro­mot­ing player wel­fare” with one of the key ob­jec­tives in­creas­ing the amount of time the ball is in play dur­ing matches.

While the RFU data is re­stricted to pro­fes­sional games played in Eng­land and is based on only five rounds of Premier­ship ac­tion, Melville told Talk of Rugby that the data re­vealed the law changes were hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact, in­clud­ing a spike in the num­ber of tack­les and first-man clear-outs of rucks. The av­er­age num­ber of “in­volve­ments” in games, which can also in­crease the risk of in­jury, has risen by 8.8 per cent from 850 to 925

Melville says more play­ers are be­ing in­volved in de­fen­sive lines be­cause of a change to the ruck and scrum laws as a re­sult of a re­duc­tion in the con­test for the ball at the break­down and scrum.

“I started look­ing at the global law changes and how they were im­pact­ing on the game to see if any­thing dif­fer­ent was hap­pen­ing this year with the new laws com­ing in that would in­di­cate the po­ten­tial for more in­juries be­cause of the way the game has been played,” Melville said.

“A few things came out of it. The ball is in play for longer but only by 26 sec­onds, which is not mas­sively sig­nif­i­cant. Then we looked at dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the game and what we are find­ing that there is quite a big rise in ‘in­volve­ments’ – more touches on the ball for ex­am­ple, and 11 per cent more tack­les be­ing. Passes are also up.

“When we started to dig down a lit­tle deeper into that, we found that teams are do­ing dif­fer­ent things with the ball.

“The con­tact area is vir­tu­ally not be­ing chal­lenged and there are fewer peo­ple in it and more play­ers be­com­ing de­fend­ers. If you re­duce the con­test for the ball at the ruck, you in­crease the num­ber of de­fend­ers which puts the de­fend­ers on the front foot and puts more pres­sure on the at­tack­ers.

“So, the at­tack­ing side is now get­ting more of the ball but also fac­ing a greater num­ber of de­fend­ers and we are there­fore see­ing more tack­les. The in­crease in tack­les is sig­nif­i­cant as it in­volves ‘dou­ble tack­les’ and with greater line speed. And we found last year that it was not the tack­led player that pre­dom­i­nantly was in­jured, but the tack­ler.

“The num­ber of steals has also gone down in the con­tact area and the num­ber of counter-ruck­ing has gone down but the num­ber of first­man clear-outs has gone up.

“These are un­in­tended con­se­quences where you we are see­ing a change for one rea­son cre­at­ing a change some­where else.

“What we are see­ing is a re­duc­tion for the con­test for the ball, more in­volve­ments, tack­les be­cause more peo­ple are avail­able in the de­fen­sive line which makes it more at­tri­tional.”

Melville, who is also a mem­ber of World Rugby’s law com­mit­tee, said that the amend­ments must be mon­i­tored closely and acted on if a link with in­creased in­juries was proven with more data and in dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

“Our laws sub-com­mit­tee [work] and all our in­for­ma­tion will go back to World Rugby and they will re­view it and go for­ward,” Melville added.

‘The con­tact area is vir­tu­ally not be­ing chal­lenged and more play­ers are be­ing de­fend­ers’

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